For a lot of travelers, staying in a Japanese-style inn is high on their list of things they want to do in the country, and with good reason. The austere elegance of traditional accommodations provides a uniquely soothing atmosphere, giving you a connection to a culture thousands of years old even as it provides the opportunity for a quiet moment of self-reflection.
What’s not nearly so relaxing, though, are the rates many inns charge, which can run to hundreds of dollars per person in mandatory packages that include overly extravagant meals. But if you’re looking for a place to stay that doesn’t go overboard on either the amenities or prices, the hostel K’s House will provide you a 100-year-old roof over your head, friendly service, and even a natural onsen hot spring bath, all for as little as 2,950 yen (US$27) a night, or, if you don’t mind a few hours’ work, nothing at all.
Located in Shizuoka Prefecture’s coastal Ito City, the building was an orthodox ryokan inn called Inaba until 2010, when the current owners took it over. Rebranded as the K’s House Ito Onsen, the building retains many of the dignified touches you’d expect from its official status as a Tangible Cultural Property.
What has changed, though, is the pricing plan and services offered. For starters, manager Masao Okabe did away with meal services, instead giving guests access to a kitchen area where they can prepare their own food.
▼ Clockwise from top left: kitchen, free Internet corner, living room
While there are a few private rooms, the most economical and popular choice is a bed in the shared dormitory room, which gives fellow travelers a chance to meet one another. The lack of a private bath isn’t a problem, as K’s House has communal but gender segregated baths fed by natural hot spring waters.
▼ There’s also a private family bath, shown in the bottom photo, on the second floor which can be rented out.
Although the building’s design is purely Japanese, the clientele is anything but. Thanks to word of mouth among international travelers, and a Certificate of Excellence from tourism site Trip Advisor earlier this year, Okabe says roughly 80 percent of his guests are foreigners. “Many of them don’t come necessarily for the sightseeing attractions of Ito, but expressly to stay in our 100-year-old building,” he says, while relaying that he receives a particularly large number of visitors from France, the U.K., and the U.S.
The free publicity translated to a 25% increase in the number of guests K’s House received this August, compared to the same period last year. “Because we don’t do enormous advertising campaigns, or provide excessive luxuries, we’re able to keep our rates down,” explains Okabe. Aside from the already attractive low price of 2,950 yen for dormitory accommodation, they are two ways to make your stay at K’s House even cheaper.
One is to take advantage of an offer through the hostel’s online reservation system, which entitles guests staying for three or more consecutive nights to a 10-percent discount off their bill. If you’re looking to save even more, though, and if you’re planning to be in Ito for an extended period of time, K’s House periodically recruits helpers to pitch in with the cleaning. Four hours of work a day gets you a futon, absolutely free of charge, in the dormitory room.
Okabe is hoping that other inns will follow his lead in providing accommodations that, if not necessarily no-frills, at least don’t provide foreign guests with expensive frills they neither want nor need. “This is a new way of attracting inbound travelers to Japan, and I want to tell other hot spring innkeepers about it, not just in Ito, but all across the country.”